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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  July 27, 2014 4:30pm-5:01pm EDT

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♪ coming up -- as muslims prepare to celebrate the end of ramadan fasting, kim lawton looks at one of the fastest growing segments of islam in america -- latino converts. and judy valente on the music and messages of quaker singer-songwriter carrie newcomer. ♪
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welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. amid tragedy and suffering in so many places around the world, people of faith had an intense week of prayer and activism. at the vatican, pope francis highlighted the middle east, iraq and ukraine and led prayers for peace and reconciliation everywhere. religious groups continued to raise concerns about the conflict between israel and the palestinians. christian, muslim and some jewish groups issued new statements decrying the large number of palestinian civilians killed and urging israel to lift
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its longstanding blockade against gaza. many other jewish groups and some christians maintained their solidarity with israel and accused hamas of using civilians as human shields. they also condemned anti-semitic attacks tied to anti-israel protests in europe. faith-based relief groups denounced the humanitarian impact of the violence, especially on the children of gaza. more than 120,000 gazans have sought shelter in schools, medical centers and churches, including a 12th century greek orthodox church. faith leaders across the spectrum called for a lasting cease-fire. in dharamsala, india, the dalai lama said the violence is against the teachings of all major religions. in iraq's autonomous kurdish region, muslims and christians rallied together in support of iraqi christians. last week, extremist rebels expelled the entire christian
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community of mosul, iraq's second largest city, except for those who agreed to convert to islam. most fled to the northern kurdish city of irbil. there had been a chrisan presence in mosul for nearly 2,000 years. the syriac catholic leader of the region, patriarch ignatius youssef younan, came to washington to seek western help. >> it is a shame that in the 21st century, we have such a kind of behavior. it's mass cleansing based on religion. religious groups around the world joined in mourning for the victims of downed malaysia airlines flight 17 as their remains were transported from ukraine to the netherlands. churches across the netherlands held memorial services. many faith leaders also urged prayers for an end to the escalating crisis between
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ukraine and russia. meanwhile, some good news. meriam ibrahim, the sudanese woman who was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her christian faith, was finally able to leave sudan this week. she arrived in rome with her family. an international outcry had led to ibrahim's release from prison, where she had given birth to a baby girl while in shackles. the family was greeted at the vatican by pope francis, who thanked ibrahim for her witness of faith. here in the u.s., president obama signed an executive order that bans federal contractors from firing employees because they are gay or transgendered. the order did not include a new exemption for religious groups that receive federal funds. some, including the u.s. conference of catholic bishops, protested the order, saying it would force many faith-based groups to violate their beliefs.
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but an interfaith coalition of progressive faith leaders said it was a victory for equality. congress and the obama administration continued debating ways to address the migrant crisis along the u.s. southern border, and especially how to deal with more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors awaiting processing. faith-based groups are also trying to help, but that's not easy. joining me is kevin eckstrom, editor in chief of "religion news service." kevin, welcome. >> thanks. >> what's going on right now and what are faith-based groups doing? >> well, there's a number of things going on and some groups are collecting articles for these kids -- juice boxes, backpacks, snacks and coloring books, but it's not like your typical disaster where churches show up with chainsaws or heavy loading equipment or something to clean up after a hurricane or a tornado. this is much more complicated because the government is actually in charge of these people, and so government rules
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apply. so you can't just show up and say, "here's a box of toys for kids." people basically have to get in line to fill out applications and go through a vetting process to make sure they're actually equipped to be able to help these kids and especially their long-term needs. >> but the kids are now in government control in military bases or schools, and slowly they'll be going through the immigration courts to decide whether they go back or whether they can stay here, and how long is that going to take? >> well, it could take several months up to a year. there are two immediate questions. one is the political, legal solution. what happens to these people? and the government will figure that out. the longer term, sort of humanitarian question of how do we care for them? these families are probably going to have to wait for upwards of a year while they're here to get fully processed to have their immigration hearings. so the government is looking for families and institutions to take these people in, but that's
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not necessarily a simple thing. i mean, the kids are going to need to be enrolled in schools. they're going to need to be driven places, and sometimes you'll have a whole family. if you have, say, an empty convent that you want to fill with these families, how do local zoning laws apply to group houses and things like that? so it's a very complicated, not very easy situation to figure out. >> kevin eckstrom, editor in chief of "religion news service." many thanks. >> sure thing. this coming week brings one of the most important holidays for muslims, eid-al-fitr, which celebrates the end of the month-long ramadan fasting. today, kim lawton reports on one of the fastest growing trends in the american muslim community, latinos converting to islam. >> reporter: at the islamic center of greater miami,
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wilfredo amr ruiz and his fellow muslims are breaking their daily ramadan fast with water, dates, mangoes and other fruit. ruiz was born in puerto rico and raised a catholic. but he says in 2002, after the birth of his twins, he began searching for a new spiritual path. the following year, he converted to islam. >> what attracted me the most was the simplicity of its theology. islam is very simple. god is the creator, that's it. >> reporter: today, ruiz is an attorney with the council on american-islamic relations in miami. and he's part of one of the fastest growing segments of islam in the u.s. -- latino muslims. more and more hispanics are embracing islam, in part, ruiz says, beuse they find a cultural familiarity that stretches back centuries to the moors in spain. >> latinos soon reconnect with a hidden past. they say, "islam is not really
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that foreign to us. islam is us. it's part of us." 4,000 words from spanish come from arabic -- camisa, pantalón, tomate, ensalada. >> reporter: scholars estimate there may be as many as 250,000 latino muslims in the u.s. according to one major study between the years 2000 and 2011, the percentage of those attending u.s. mosques who were hispanic jumped from 6% to 12%. and experts say the numbers are much higher today. >> after going to catholic school for 12 years, my faith needed a little bit more depth in it, and i was able to find it in islam. >> most latino converts come out of christianity, especially catholicism. >> the trinity was very confusing to me. i didn't understand how god was a man or how man could become a god. >> i just felt that the minute i
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put my head down to the ground, i felt like i was really talking to god. >> reporter: ruiz says many latinos like that in islam, there are no intermediaries with god, such as priests. >> you don't need of another human being really to fully practice islam. even if you're alone in an island, your religion will be complete, if you're muslim. >> reporter: hispanic muslim converts can face a host of challenges, not least of which is the reactions from family and friends. ruiz's mother didn't speak to him for months. >> she was hurt probably. why? because she was the one that moved us to be in a catholic school, be raised as catholics, she herself was such a devout catholic that probably she felt, like, hurt. "look, i did everything for my son to be a catholic, good catholic boy, and now he turns to be a muslim." >> reporter: ruiz's wife edimar capella grew up in a
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puerto rican presbyterian family. her family has been more accepting. >> i joke with my mom and i tell her that, "you raised me as a muslim, you just didn't know it." because a lot of the values, most of them, i learned at home. and for them it was like my pathway. that's her pathway, let her follow it. >> reporter: some latinos have difficulty adapting to islamic standards such as no pork products or alcohol. >> in latino culture it's, "a party without alcohol? what do you do?" i have people asking me, "what do you do in a party if there's no alcohol?" >> reporter: capella has tried to make family recipes following islamic rules. >> a lot of our recipes i had to work around and find a way of keep the taste, keep the flavors, but still i wanted them to taste like puerto rican food, like caribbean food, but without the pork, and it was a challenge. and i think i was pretty successful. >> reporter: a more serious
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challenge for latino converts can be countering misperceptions about muslims. >> i believe the challenge of adding another element of discrimination, like if we don't have enough, right? [ laughter ] >> reporter: ruiz says it can be a struggle trying to differentiate themselves from images of islamic extremists often portrayed in the media. >> you become muslim and you're a radical, you don't like our government or you're anti-american because muslims believe that you're -- it means that you're necessarily anti-american. it is hard. it is hard for us and presents a big challenge. a big challenge. >> reporter: there also can be challenges from within the muslim community. >> even though most of the muslims do see the latinos very welcoming, when it comes to latinos now taking leadership position in their community, they are facing more challenges,
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right? because they say, "how can you be a leader or be an imam? your mother tongue is not arabic. how much arabic do you know? or how much you know of the muslim culture?" >> reporter: mainstream muslim groups have been trying to provide more support for latino converts. amana, the american muslim association of north america, focuses on outreach and distributes qurans and islamic literature. director sofian zakkout says they can't keep up with latino demands for spanish translations. >> i have a guy from ecuador. i give him quran, and he was very happy. "i've been looking for it for two years." and i have a guy, cuban. i give him quran, he start to dance in the street. free quran. because they hear about the quran, but they never seen it because it's not easy to find it. but we find it, we have it. >> reporter: on the wall of amana's miami office, zakkout keeps a sampling of conversion certificates with latino names.
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>> if i want to put all the certificates, a copy of all certificates, we need all the rooms and all the walls to cover it because we really have a lot. >> reporter: at recent national conventions, the islamic circle of north america has been holding special session in spanish for converts. >> many of them don't speak english, so it's very important for them to go to these conventions and acquire the knowledge just as any other muslim. >> reporter: nahela morales coordinates hispanic outreach for icna's why islam project. she attends the north hudson islamic center in new jersey, where about 30% of the congregation is latino. during the world cup games, she led a team to brazil where they passed out literature and talked to people about their faith. icna says more than 50% of the latino converts they see are women. many choose to wear a head covering, or hijab.
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>> the reason i wear the scarf is because i expect to be respected by the opposite gender. i don't want to be cat-called and i don't want to be judged by my appearance. in fact, i want to be judged by my intellect. >> it reminds you of who you are and what values you have and -- and i don't see that as oppression. i see that as a favor to me to be able to do the right thing all the time. >> reporter: roraima aisha kanar emigrated from cuba when she was 5 years old and converted to islam when she was 23. >> my father, when we came from cuba, taught me to love this country for opening their arms to us. and at this time, as a muslim, i'm still cherishing it because i am free to be a muslim. >> reporter: ruiz, who served as a navy chaplain, says latino muslims bring much to the american muslim community. >> you can keep your own cultural expressions and be equally american, right? >> reporter: latinos, he says, can also teach the largely
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immigrant muslim community about political organizing and standing up for their rights. and he says because they face so many questions, latino coverts tend to be better educated about islam than many from predominantly islamic societies. >> i need to learn, not to a level to satisfy only my curiosity but my family's curiosity as well, right? and i better be ready to answer their questions because otherwise i might not look good saying, "hey, how you embrace a religion and you don't know this about your religion?" >> reporter: at the end of the day, ruiz believes any challenges latino muslims face diminish with the joy he says they find in islam. >> islam, what brings to most of the people is peace. people feel at peace first with themselves, of who they are and their way they have chosen, and a peace knowing what is -- what
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is the purpose of life? >> reporter: and that's something they want to spread throughout the hispanic world. i'm kim lawton in miami. finally, a story on the quaker folk singer carrie newcomer. as judy valente reports, this singer-songwriter tours the world advocating for peace, justice and recognizing the sacred in all of everyday life. >> reporter: she's been called a "prairie mystic." the well-known spirituality writer parker palmer has said her songs are "attuned to the still small voice of the soul." others have described her as "a soaring songstress" and a "minister of the wide-eyed gospel of hope."
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with her 14 albums and numerous world tours, carrie newcomer has carved out a unique niche as a folk singer who is also an international emissary for peace and tireless advocate for living a more contemplative life. >> i would have to say that my most profound and consistent spiritual practice is songwriting, that idea of sacramental living, of seeing the world as sacrament, seeing life as a sacrament of compassion and forgiveness. >> reporter: newcomer's music is hard to categorize. but her lyrics, which often emphasize the sacred in the ordinary and social justice, are rooted in her quaker faith. she grew up in small-town elkhart, indiana, the daughter of an italian-catholic mother and a father of amish ancestry who attended a methodist church. on a mission trip to costa rica during college, she visited a small quaker community.
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>> i went to my first silent quaker meeting in the middle of the rain forest, and there was something in that experience that my heart just said, "ah, yes!" something in the silence. >> reporter: she dispensed with her plan to become a visual artist and focused on music, writing songs that capture the beauty and simplicity of daily life. >> people will often ask me, you know, "you make your life in sound, you're a musician and a songwriter, and you go to a silent quaker meeting." and it makes all the sense in the world to me. some of my best language has come out of the silence, when i've taken the time to listen to my heart, to listen to something beyond myself. i do use spiritual language sometimes in my work, but i do
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it very carefully. in a lot of, let's say, contemporary christian music, you get eight crayons to paint with. that's all you get. but i'm kind of like a 48-crayon kind of gal theologically. >> reporter: she says the quaker expression "let your life speak" spurred her to look beyond the performance stage to a life of social activism. in 2012, she performed in kenya to raise international awareness of the need for additional schools, hospitals and clinics in that country. twice in recent years she toured india as a cultural ambassador for the american embassy in delhi. her visits led to a musical collaboration with amjad ali khan and his sons, three masters of the traditional indian string instrument known as the sarod. >> it's not the first thing you think of putting together, indiana folk singer, indian classical sarod. yes, that will work.
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one of the songs on the collection is called "everything is everywhere," and the song started with an e-mail i sent to a friend. india is a very intense place. everything seemed to be coming at me at once. so i started writing, just basically typing out images -- people's faces, smells, food, the look of the ocean, the scarves, the women, and all the beautiful colors. i ended the e-mail with "everything is everywhere," and that started the song. >> reporter: she and her fellow musicians donated the proceeds from her album "everything is everywhere" to the interfaith hunger initiative, an indianapolis-based group that seeks to feed the hungry in both that city and in africa. >> there were, you know, a variety of reasons that i went to india and africa and later the middle east.
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part of the results, i think, of those experiences was this affirmation of this connectedness that i sense between people. i'm so powerfully moved by the thread that pulls between us, the things we recognize everywhere. >> reporter: instead of moving to either coast, newcomer chose to remain rooted in her native indiana, and that, she says, has made all the difference in her music. >> something really good happened to my songwriting when i gave myself permission to do a couple of things, and one was to write the song i can write today. it may be a masterpiece, it may not. my writing also changed when i gave myself permission to sound like a hoosier. there's such an abundance of "x" chromosomes here!" >> reporter: she often explores the connection between creativity and the spiritual life in presentations and workshops. here, she addresses a conference of women in ministry.
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>> my friend faith, she teaches at candler school of theology in atlanta. she plays a song and asks them if it's a religious song, and then she lets them fight, which just makes my little quakerly heart happy. >> reporter: newcomer says one of her greatest achievements is writing a song that has become an anthem for social justice activists. she wrote it after listening to an interview about the importance of folk music to the american civil rights movement. >> so it's done in call and response. "let our hearts not be hardened to those living on the margin. there is room at the table for everyone." ♪ >> reporter: newcomer has
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several new projects. she's just published a collection of poems and essays, her first, called "a permeable life." >> who do you have. >> i'll have a piece of pie. a play based on one of her songs is scheduled for production next year at indiana's purdue university. she says if she's learned anything on her goodwill tours, it is that kindness will save the world. not necessarily grand gestures, but simple small acts of compassion that she says are like the country cousin who sings in the kitchen and does the dishes before she's even asked. for "religion & ethics newsweekly," i'm judy valente. ♪
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that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. and visit our website, where there is always much more, and where you can listen to or watch every program. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, more from carrie newcomer. ♪
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♪ ererertz
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>> charlie: welcome to the program. i'm charlie rose. the program is charlie rose the week. just ahead, the tumultuous week in the ukraine and the middle east. the man known as the sheriff of wall street. and the star of the broadway musical "if/then," idina menzel. (singing) >> charlie: we have those stories and more on what happened and what might happen. funding for charlie rose was provided by the following. >> there's a saying around here: you stand behind what you say. around here, we don't make excuses, we make commitments. and when you can't live up to them, you own up and make it

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